Time and time again I see it: Everyday shoppers want to get healthier. So they pick up something from the store that is ridiculously expensive, but no healthier than what they’ve been purchasing in the past.
Let’s call this for what it is: clever marketing.
Companies are smart. They spend absurd amounts of money on marketing, advertising, and branding to increase their bottom line. Hey, I’m all about free enterprise and businesses making money, but I also have to be smart with both my money and my health.
If you’re looking to get a little healthier, here are some labels to watch out for:
1. “All Natural.” This is probably one of the biggest dupes on the average consumer. Just because a product says “all natural” does not mean that it is good for you. According to the USDA, products with the “All Natural” label can still contain a multitude of additives, hormones, genetically modified ingredients (GMOs), antibiotics, pesticides, and more.
Solution: Look for the "100% USDA Organic" seal or purchase more raw, whole foods.
2. Green Colors. Did you know that if a food product is predominantly labeled in green colors, that we’re more likely to assume that the product is healthier? This is thanks to the whole “green movement.” Brands count on this, and will mix green colors with words and phrases like healthy, natural, good for you, simple, etc. Don’t buy into it.
Solution: Look at actual certifications before making a buying decision—not just the color of the packaging.
3. “Organic” or “Made with Organic Ingredients.” If you see this on a product, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you. Unless it’s 100% certified USDA organic, there could be all kinds of stuff in that food that has absolutely nothing to do with being organic and healthy. 70-95% of it will be organic, but the rest could be anything.
Solution: Look for the "100% USDA Organic" seal.
4. “Whole Grain” or “Multigrain.” This is one of the most widely used labels on products, and it can be deceiving if you’re not careful. There isn’t really a unified standard definition and regulation of what “whole grain” actually is, and customers can be misled if they're not careful. Many items that contain this label tend to have higher amounts of sugars and calories than foods that don’t have the label. And to make it worse, the bread could actually still be bleached flour with some brown coloring added, and a few random seeds sprinkled on it to qualify it as “multigrain.”
Solution: Look for the "100% Whole Grain" stamp, or make your own breads at home.
5. “Free Range” or “Grass-Fed.” These items aren’t regulated. A company may never even let their chickens or cows out of a 5 square-foot area, and still call the meat “free-range” or “grass-fed.” This isn’t necessarily the case, but since there is no regulation here it’s important to choose with caution.
Solution: Know the company practices of the brand you are buying, and/or purchase from local farmers.
It’s important to also note that not all things labeled “USDA Organic” are necessarily healthy. That box of organic cookies: filled with sugar and the ingredients are still processed despite their organic certification. Instead, try sticking to raw organic fruits and vegetables, proteins, dairy, healthy oils, and grains.
Even at “healthy” grocery stores, there are chemical-ridden foods disguised as “natural,” and the consumers are left footing a higher bill for a product that has very little to do with healthy eating.
Shop smart. Eat healthy.
For more healthy money-saving advice, see our Health section.